Apple is accustomed to generating headlines, but the recent issues related to the iPhone that have been making news all over the world are perhaps not the sort of buzz that the consumer electronics giant would generally choose to experience. The argument over the FBI request to backdoor the iPhone 5c belonging to one of the recent San Bernardino shooters has caused a massive rift between those who think that law enforcement should prevail, and privacy campaigners.
Apple gets expert support
It is notable that virtually every technology expert who has come out of the woodwork to comment on this particular issue has strongly supported the position of Apple. There are always arguments and counter-arguments regarding whether Apple can be considered an ethical company or not, and its tax policy in particular has been widely, and justifiably, criticized.
But it should surely be applauded for the important principle that it has defended in the FBI case. It would have been all too easy for the consumer electronics giant to bow to both public pressure and the authorities, but the Cupertino-based company has instead defended the integrity of its products and ultimately consumers. Naturally there is not inconsiderable self-interest in its position, but it is still one that privacy and technology experts have almost ubiquitously considered to be both morally and practically correct.
That doesn’t mean that the decision has been without consequences. Apple’s principled invocation of the First and Fifth amendments in its defense brief may have brought support from libertarians and Constitutionalists, but it could also cause problems for the consumer electronic giant. And Apple fans may be alarmed about one of the potential consequences of this massive issue.
It is being suggested in some quarters that the issue which Apple faces with the FBI could lead to the iPhone 7 being delayed. This would be regardless of the ultimate result of this massive legal case. The argument with the FBI could significantly hinder the plans that Apple has for product launches for the remainder of the year, specifically in relation to the development of iOS 10. It is obvious that any problems with the iOS 10 mobile operating system will significantly impact upon the iPhone 7 in particular, but it is far from inconceivable that other products could be affected as well.
Other Apple products threatened
Obviously other Apple devices utilize iOS 10, but even the Apple Watch, which has its own proprietary operating system, effectively utilizes a pared down iOS code. This would make it extremely difficult for Apple to stick to its planned schedule, and with the FBI case set to rumble on for a considerable period, there is no doubt that Apple’s plans for the rest of the year could come under serious threat. And, unfortunately, Apple cannot just simply handwave the FBI away!
In its response to the FBI, Apple is also talking about the possibility of developing an operating system that effectively provides a backdoor for law enforcement agencies that can be accessed by anyone else. It is clear that the consumer electronics mega-corporation is extremely reluctant to both develop and include this software in the iPhone range, but it is having to at least consider the possibility as legal wranglings continue.
The so-called GovtOS requires a significant investment from the consumer electronics giant, and Apple outlines the process in a legal response document. The California-based company states that between six and ten Apple employees would be required in order to create, design, validate and ultimately deployed this specific operating system. Apple’s manager of user privacy Erik Neuenschwander claims that this system would need to go through the same steps of creation involved in any operating system, which would certainly be time consuming.
Apple would also need to deploy two engineers from its core operating system group, a quality assurance engineer, a project manager and a document or tool writer. Apple estimates that even with this decent quotient of staff, the process would take at least three weeks to complete successfully, with testing also to follow before the ‘launch’ could be finalized.
Once the GovtOS system had been completed, it would then be necessary for Apple to optimize the software so that it could run on the iPhone 5c adequately. The actual software deployment would take place at a “secure, isolated, physical facility where the FBI’s passcode testing can be conducted without interfering with the investigation or disrupting Apple’s operations.” Finally, the FBI would then require at least 24 hours to utilize the system in order to crack encryption, and Apple estimates that even this is an optimistic figure.
It is not really necessary to be a software expert in order to understand that the process described above would require several experienced veteran iOS developers in order to complete successfully. This is not some layman’s task that anyone could complete easily. What this would imply is that several of the company’s key engineers would be forced to take time off from developing the iOS 10 operating system. Producing this so-called GovtOS is potentially a significant undertaking for Apple, and one that can potentially delay the launch of iOS 10. This would then have a knock-on effect on the iPhone 7.
iPhone 7 launch date queried
So the September launch date for the iPhone 7 that has been widely predicted may be somewhat wide of the mark. This would be a massive disappointment both for consumers and the consumer electronics giant itself, although Apple would move heaven and earth to ensure that it still fitted neatly into the pre-Christmas window.
The even worse news for Apple is that if the FBI is successful in its quest against the corporation, the company could then encounter numerous similar requests from FBI and other government agencies. This could ultimately result in Apple being induced to produce several separate GovtOS versions…one can easily see that this is something Apple will be absolutely committed to avoiding.
What can be said is that Apple will fight this legal case with every possible course of action open to the corporation, and also that Apple possesses some pretty nifty lawyers. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the FBI fails in its request, but there is also no doubt that the release date of the iPhone 7 is under threat at present.